let’s talk about destiny 2’s loot system

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so of course immediately i post a picture of destiny 1

I’m writing this with the intent that maybe it can help someone making loot games figure out how to make good loot systems. It’s about Destiny 2, but please don’t take this as ‘destiny sucks.’ I’m a doctor, and I’m here to diagnose an ailment, as it stands.

You may like the current system! That’s great. But it’s undeniable that a lot of people are unhappy with it, especially the elemental system. To date, I have heard exactly two voices defending the elemental system, and one of those was Bungie, and I personally think that defense was… not… ideal, considering the loot frequency and lockouts. More on that later.

What is the purpose of a loot system?

So, the purpose is twofold: first, it’s to get enjoyment spikes; times when you, the player, opens a treasure chest to find that thing you’ve been looking for, and lose your mind with excitement.

Second, it’s to help the developer basically extend content. The idea is, you play through a game’s campaign once, but then maybe you explore the world, do missions, you engage with the game’s gameplay a lot.

Sometimes, this is because a game is a service, and the devs want to keep players sticking around, playing for hours on end, having a blast, and other times you’re making a game like Diablo 2 for players to sink thousands of hours into.

Whatever the case is, these are the primary purposes of a loot system: to give the players something to chase (and the subsequent endorphin rush that comes with getting it) and to give the players an incentive to keep returning to the game.

How does a loot system work?

Well, lots of ways. But let’s look at player emotions, okay?

As a designer, you want a player to engage with your game a lot.

As a player, the easiest way to do this is to be able to log in one night, go “I want this,” and then seek out that thing by performing specific tasks or activities in order to do that. When I sign into Monster Hunter, I might go “okay, tonight, I want to build the Abyss Piercer II.” Well, one of the ingredients to build one is the Odogaron Hardclaw, which you can get from master tier Odogaron hunts.

This is Odogaron.

He is very angry.

All the time.

Anyways, you fight a few Odogaron by going to where they live, trying to find one by following its tracks and markings, defeating them, carving up their remains, and hoping you get a hardclaw. Eventually get you get one, you get the other ingredients, and bam, you build your Abyss Piercer II.

It can be frustrating not to get the part you need, but the gameplay is engaging enough that eventually, you will.

Warframe, another loot game handles things a bit differently. In Warframe, every item has a fixed set of stats, which you can change with mods, forma, energy use, and leveling. I won’t get into the details, but basically, you’re like “oh, I want to craft this gun, but I need this material,” and your friend is like “oh, well I want to craft THAT gun, but I need THAT material,” and then the two of you look at the map and you find out where you can get the mats you need, and then you go do activities on that planet until you get what you want.

Both of these games feel really good for the same reason: even though their systems are different, every night you log in to play, you’re going somewhere else, targeting things you want. Rather than grinding the same activity for weeks or months on end with little variation, you’re doing everything the game has to offer. These games feel HUGE. There’s so much to do, every night you could do something different, which means you feel like you could play them for hundreds and thousands of hours.

Destiny is a bit different.

(i wrote this article to be COMPREHENSIVE, which means that different content will be useful to different people. if you want to skip all the context of the d1 stuff, search for “destiny 2:” including the colon, and you’ll skip to the destiny 2 section. “what a loot game needs” will take you to the Current Events part of the piece; I write all my articles as I am building a case, so I am trying to be As Clear As Possible for readers who have, say, never played Destiny, but if you think you can skip all that, yeah, go for “what a loot game needs”)

Destiny 1: So How Does Destiny Work?

Destiny, the first game, had a system I was really happy with, pretty much from the start. It worked like this: Do an activity, get a gun or an armor piece. That armor comes with a random set of perks that alters the way it behaves, which means you can get the same loot 50 times with different results. This is pretty engaging. Then there was the power system, which I think actually harms the game (last season of D2, I found an interesting correlation between people who hadn’t finished the grind hating the game and people who had loving it because they were searching for interesting gear, playing THEIR way). In this system, guns and armor pieces have a score on them, and you want to max that score out.

Destiny 1, Year 1:

When Destiny first launched, the only way to get max gear was by raiding, and there was only one raid, and you had ten (normal + heroic modes) chances to get five pieces of gear every week. Up to thirty if you had 3 characters, but armor only worked per-class, guns were universal. Some gear only dropped from specific encounters, so if you didn’t get what you wanted, boom, you were done. This is where the issue of “forever 29” came in — players were stuck at level 29 because they couldn’t get, say, the boots to drop. I personally never, ever got the ship, but thankfully, that didn’t impact my stats (and thus my ability to play the game).

Destiny 1, Year 1, House of Wolves:

Bungie fixed this at first with a system where you got a specific material called Etheric Light that you could put into an item to bring it to the game’s maximum level, but iirc, you were pretty limited on how many you got. I think this was the absolute best system the game had, though I would have allowed a player who WANTED to put a hundred hours into the game to do that. The power grind is easily the least compelling aspect of Destiny — getting interesting guns and armor is what makes the game fun.

Destiny 1, Year 2, The Taken King

Bungie invented the Infusion System, and it was terrible, but it had a REALLY good idea: you take a stronger thing and you take a weaker thing, and if you like the weaker thing more (because it has different perks, more on that later), you can destroy the stronger thing and put its power into the weaker thing.

Why was this terrible? Well, let’s say you got something at 305, which is VERY hard to do, and something at 280. You could put the 305 into the 280 and… you might get a 290. That sucked.

So Bungie introduced predictability to it: put 305 into 280, and the 280 becomes a 305. Good stuff! They fixed it! This system was more or less perfect. Get a gun with perks (again, more on that later) you like, take a gun that’s stronger but one you don’t like, and bam, infuse it to get the best of both worlds.

Destiny 1: A sidebar!

I prefer games where the loot you get becomes your companion. Disposable guns are all well and good, and I’m not gonna dismiss, say, Half-Life or Halo for picking up and dropping guns so the individual gun becomes meaningless, but in a loot game, I really like getting a gun that feels good to use, getting really skilled at using it (this process is called ‘maining’ in MOBAs and Fighting games, but we don’t really think about it in shooters, and I really think we should), and then keeping it forever. That gun has history, that gun has personality, and I’m really, really good with it.

This gun matters to me.

Here’s my Destiny 2 shotgun called Badlander, by the way! Notice how many kills I have on it, and I had thousands before I ponied up for the kill tracker, because I didn’t really think the masterwork (that square with the 10 in it — it’s a stability masterwork, and getting it gives you a kill tracker and changes your stability stat) for it was good. I love that gun. It means the world to me even though the masterwork isn’t PERFECT.

It has good perks (more on that later), looks nice, sounds great, feels incredible to use… it is my traveling companion, my buddy, my partner in crime. I do not ever, ever want to have to give this gun up.

One reason I only ever play games like Borderlands once or twice is because Guns Don’t Matter. You get a gun, then you throw it out because a new gun has better stats later. The gun never gets the time to grow. You never have a chance to fall in love, as it were.

Here, I wrote an entire article on the gun that meant the most to me in Destiny 1:

I would kill to have this gun back in Destiny 2. Like… seriously, Luke Smith, Lisa Brown, whoever the fuck at Bungie is responsible for guns, I will literally move to Seattle and rent an apartment there and be your personal assistant and do whatever you want if you can give me my specific Hung Jury in this and all future Destiny titles. That gun means everything to me. It was there with me the day I found out that the guy who was gonna help me defeat Oryx had passed away. It was there with me as I shepherded new players through raids. It was there for countless strikes and patrols. It was the gun I took with me when I sank into Destiny to take solace from the torment of my abuser. It was a comfort. A friend. It means everything to me. It is still there when I go back, even though most of my friends no longer have Playstations, have moved on our past away. It is my constant.

A game like Borderlands just can’t do that. Warframe can because of its Very Unique System that makes games Infinitely Useful Forever, but most games are like Borderlands. Destiny wasn’t.

Someone at Bungie said, some time ago, I think in a GameInformer magazine I no longer have, that the fine folks at Bungie wanted you to get guns you’d remember getting, guns you’d want to keep with you forever.

Obviously, you run into a problem: if you can keep all your guns… why would you want to hunt down new ones?

Destiny 1: The Perk System! (Told You We’d Talk About It)

So, even if you had the right power level, every gun was different.

Take my Hung Jury, for instance.

You see all those weird orbs on the left? The green and blue circles are perks. On the left, you’ve got Torch SR2 sights, then Triple Tap, Extended Mag, and Firefly. I can select any of the green circles, while the blue ones are the ones currently active. You can only select one at a time per column.

I picked Triple Tap and Firefly because they’re both headshot perks — if you click the link to my article above, you can see Firefly in action — a headshot triggers a massive explosion (Destiny 2 only features ONE gun with Firefly, Ace of Spades; it’s heartbreaking). When you put that together with Triple Tap, a perk that refunds one bullet for every three fired, and consider that this is a scout rifle, a semi-automatic rifle designed for precision fire… well, you get a gun that feels really good. It doesn’t have the best damage in Destiny, but it feels so good because those perks synergize in interesting ways.

Different gun types benefit from different perks. My Badlander up there? It has Threat Detector and Rampage, perks which work really well on shotguns. Destiny 2 also introduced the ability to change your gun’s look a bit through ornaments and shaders, and mod your gun with things like Rampage Spec, which increases the duration of the Rampage perk, making it easier to keep up the combo that gives Rampage its power, or Major Spec, the mod I have on it right now, which increases damage against Major enemies — the guys between Boss and Grunts on the damage scale, basically.

In Destiny 1, guns could also roll with different elemental affinities — solar/orange, arc/blue, or void/purple — which meant they’d do increased damage to enemies with matching elemental shields and on nightfalls with elemental burns, where all damage was increased by 100% for specific elemental damage types.

Some guns weren’t elemental, like Hung Jury or this Exile’s Student, and it never really made sense why. Like, it was really fun to run three elemental weapons in D1 and it the kinetic/energy difference doesn’t seem meaningfully different in D2, other than matching elements cause a shield explosion. It’s not a choice that’s INTERESTING to make.

The Exile’s Student I got in the last Trials of Osiris event ever (bring it back, Bungie! Bring it back in Destiny 1 specifically! I want to play on those old maps and unlock that old gear! Or just put all the old maps in D2 and bring back the mode and gear! idgaf! i want to play trials on a completely unaltered thieves’ den), came with more total perk combinations than the Hung Jury. Some came with less. I wish it was completely standardized, but hey, whatever. The real point was that you could run events to get guns, find a gun that suited you and how you wanted to play (I keep getting slideshot/rampage on Destiny 2’s One Small Step shotgun, which I don’t enjoy in PVE, but might be great for PVP players), and keep it as long as you wanted starting in Year 2, because the Year 1 system got retired.

If you want to check out what rolls you could get on a gun like Hung Jury by the way, check out this handy link. I now use Light.gg for guns like Badlander. You can see how these guns could have interesting rolls that made them fun to use.

There were, however, two classes of guns that weren’t randomly rolled:

Raid guns, which… changed meaning a lot over time. They dropped from Raids, and you only had one chance a week to get them.

And Exotics, unique items that push the boundaries of the world in interesting ways with distinct perks you can’t get anywhere else. You can only equip one exotic gun and one exotic armor piece at the same time. My favorite pairing was Sleeper Simulant or Ice Breaker and Celestial Nighthawk. I felt like a sharpshooting god with those on.

Originally, raid guns dropped with perks they couldn’t normally come with, like Vision of Confluence, which was a fully automatic scout rifle that felt amazing to shoot (and when it could carry a monstrous 27 rounds or so, it was truly a gun worth hunting down). The primaries (bungie originally had a primary/secondary/heavy system, where most guns were primaries, shotguns/snipers/fusions were secondaries, and heavies were things like machine guns or rocket launchers) also came with an elemental affinity, which was usually reserved for the secondaries and heavies.

Now, personally? I really liked this system. Getting raid guns felt UNIQUE and REWARDING. You’d beat the hardest content, so you get the coolest guns. Loved that system.

Bungie, apparently, did not.

As best I can tell, this is why:

A bunch of these guns are raid weapons.

I remember Luke Smith saying something like “the raid guns we gave players were too good,” and it seemed like — I’d love to talk to the guy some day, because Destiny is fascinating and Luke has been one of my favorite writers for years, I always love listening to him talk about Destiny — his rationale was that hey, the guns were used a lot, and being used a lot means the guns were good, and if they were used way more than other guns, Bungie would have to nerf them.

Now, me, I’d tell you that no, what you’re seeing is people main weapons that felt amazing to use and were really hard to get, weapons that they had a strong emotional connection to because the raids were crazy difficult and super memorable. It’s not that the guns were outperforming every other gun out there, it was that they meant something.

ok sidebar, but i can’t do like, a box of text, so this is a quote.

so, one thing i’ve noticed a lot lately is a movement to Force Players To Make Choices About Gear In Games. The game dev perspective appears to be “we want players to make meaningful choices,” but the reality is that devs are just introducing A Lack of Flexibility. That Legendary Nightmare Hunt I did last night? Not super fun because I couldn’t change gear once I found out the encounter didn’t really support the loadout I brought in. Fixed loadouts aren’t good.

Division had non-fixed loadouts. Division 2 wouldn’t let you change gear in combat. Guess which game I put more time into? If you guessed “the game that let me play how I wanted,” then you are correct.

We’re seeing that with Gears now. Gears 3 had horde that let you play any character. Gears 4 locked you into classes. Gears 5 locks you into CHARACTERS who are THEIR OWN CLASSES. There are a lot of reasons to pick characters. i pick cole because I like him. but if I don’t like his skills in Gears 5? now I’m playing in a way that isn’t fun because I like the character. or i play a character i hate to get the skills i like. bad.

you guys all know jeff kaplan, right? overwatch guy? he talks about this a bit! here: “We imagined a world where players would be ok with Torbjorn on defense but not playing him on attack. The maining/one-trick mindset led to us having to rework those characters to fit with how the game eventually evolved to be played. I guess what I am saying is we hoped to be able to create more highly situational characters with the thought that players would switch in situations where those characters weren’t as viable.”

i guess what’s fascinating to me here is how developers have, especially in the last few years, really pushed towards this idea of Trying To Make Everyone Play Specific Ways To Play Correctly, but this limits our ability to do weird arbitrary challenges or play the way we want. I’m not saying everything needs to be completely valid all the time, but “not being able to change weapons when you find something isn’t working for you,” or “being forced to change classes to counter other players when you don’t like those classes” is weird. I realize they sound contradictory, but ultimately i’m talking about SUPPORTING PLAYERS SO THEY HAVE A GOOD TIME and I think a lot of the Arbitrary Restrictions developers have been putting on players in more recent games re: loadouts or classes have really hurt players a lot.

what I’m saying is: if I raid and I get a really fucking good gun and never use anything else?

let me fucking do that.

i don’t care if you think it’s boring, it’s fun. I worked hard for this gun and I love the way it feels. Let me use it. When Bungie ruined unicorn grenades because hunters didn’t use the others, rather than saying “maybe we should make the other hunter grenades more fun, they went “this is getting overused, so let’s nerf it”

seriously here’s the quote

“The Tripmine Grenade has been a dominant grenade choice for a while. It’s possible that this because it was the grenade that did everything: set a trap, stick it to an opponent, miss an opponent and end up setting a trap anyway. The original intent with this grenade was to be used as a trap, not a sticky, so we moved it back in that direction. Conversely, we increased the Swarm Grenades damage and ability to detect opponents to improve that option.”

this was a big problem with the hunter unicorn grenade nerfs: solar hunter grenades fucking suck. they are not fun to use. but there was one we all liked, tripmines, because you had this really goddamn satisfying ffwwwwip WOOSH when you landed a headshot with a grenade and turned someone into an explosive unicorn! bungie took that away for. uh. no reason other than the data said it was being used more than the other grenades, which… one is just a ball that explodes and the other is this really shrill sounding thingy; no one was asking for a tripmine nerf, but bungie removed our ability to carry two, made it so no grenade could one shot, wouldn’t let us stick grenades to any living enemies anymore, robbing hunters of their only sticky grenade, and made it so no grenade could be a one hit kill; if they went back to D1Y1 grenades, Destiny would be, objectively, more fun for everyone. i mean this in d2 as well. a titan can throw a grenade into a room and completely deny it for a while on literally any class right now. a hunter can only do that with one grenade and iirc it actually has a shorter lifespan than the titan version but i could be mistaken. all solar hunter grenades FEEL unpleasant to use. unicorns FELT good. bring back good grenade feel.

So with King’s Fall, we got the Worst Raid Guns Ever.

They were still fixed rolls, but there were no more elemental primaries, every gun had genuinely fuckawful stability and felt like ass to use because they all had horrible reload speeds and usually one other garbage stat, except the machine gun I never got which was pretty darn good. They also looked lame.

(sorry, the artists did a great job, but I’ve always wanted gun that looked like it was manufactured in this environment, with all the pitted metal and sick lighting

and not, well, weird fleshy bony shit

also these guns kinda broke the visual design rules for gun classes; apparently this Doom of Chelchis is a scout rifle, but it has all the lines of an automatic rifle; Bungie normally did an amazing job of making it CLEAR what gun type was what and I feel they kinda borked that here.

but hey, this is all a personal complaint; king’s fall is considered by many people to be the best raid in Destiny, and a big part of what makes a raid good is its loots, so I guess people liked these guns? water under the bridge and all that. If bungie merged D1 and 2 and I could raid King’s Fall every fuckin week, you bet I fucking would)

The biggest problem? All of these guns came with Cocoon, which reloaded your guns for you if you weren’t using them. A good reload is crucial to a game’s gunfeel, and Bungie was giving you guns that you were supposed to switch away from! Wild.

But, hey, players weren’t primarily using raid weapons anymore, so mission accomplished, I guess?

Look, Bungie’s great. They hire absolutely incredible people, some of the best in the world at the shit they do, but I think they spend a bit too much time interpreting data in ways that are primarily based around use and if they see players using something a lot, they go “hmm, players are having fun. we should put a stop to that,” instead of going “maybe some of the other shit isn’t as fun.”

Okay. Sorry. So that got a bit rambly.

My point is, for the most part, the rules around loot was this: every gun more or less has two perk columns, with multiple perks in that column, that change how it functions and two perk columns, with multiple perks in those columns, that modify the stats in some way. This introduced randomness to the entire system. This was a really good way to feel satisfied that you were getting good loot.

Destiny 1: And Then There’s Armor…

So armor basically did the same thing, except you couldn’t swap between perks for the most part, as I recall. I think it’s ’cause there were fewer armor perks overall.

Armor, however, had random stats: Intellect, Discipline, Strength. It also had an elemental affinity. Can’t remember when that was introduced, but basically, it increased your resistance to certain damage types. Pretty neat. Intellect impacted your One Magic Skill, reducing its cooldown, Discipline changed your grenade cooldown, and Strength impacted your melee cooldown.

As a hunter, melee was always kind of lame, so I tended to seek out interesting, good looking (fashion is a crucial component of loot games; you want to like the way you look!) gear that benefited my super and grenade regen (I had grenade down to 25 second recharges; man, tripmines were really FUN in Destiny!! They felt a lot more like Halo’s Golden Triangle. Destiny 2 lost that. You can’t really use grenades to alter the combat environment anymore).

So. Yeah. That was a lot shorter than weapons.

Destiny 1: How It All Came Together:

So. Okay. Basically, the way it ended was, you do any activity in the game and your Vanguard (all PVE) or Crucible (all PVP) bar progresses until you can redeem a package for armor or weapons. The secondary faction you were aligned with (Dead Orbit, New Monarchy, or Future War Cult) would do the same thing. You were passively earning legendary tier gear for any activity in the game. This felt really good, and these factions all had really really cool gear that was worth getting (like my Hung Jury SR4).

Then, in addition to that, you had activities that you could do that would drop gear (your first public event of the day would ALWAYS drop one legendary; I miss this), like public events, strikes, crucible matches, and so on. Sometimes, they would drop legendary gear.

After that, you had bounties which would guarantee legendary gear, like Iron Banner’s The Titanium Orchid, or, in Year 3, Zavala’s bounties were the only way to get the Year 3 version of the iconic Ice Breaker.

Finally, you could get gear randomly, just by killing enemies and occasionally seeing items drop.

This basically meant that you could go anywhere, get specific loot (Need a good Saladin’s Vigil? Archon’s Forge. Want Wolves’ Leash II? Skolas’ Revenge.). You could target, much like Monster Hunter or Warframe, and the randomness kept you coming back for more.

It was really good.

Destiny 1: Was It Perfect?

No.

By year 3, other than the hunter tripmine nerfs and some weird ammo economy changes, Destiny was really fuckin good, but it wasn’t perfect. Archon’s Forge was really fun because it was quick, intense, rewarded you for playing WELL (as opposed to all of D2’s ‘warning, you’re about to time out’ stressor events, which aren’t nearly as fun) by giving you huge FUCKOFF Axes, but you could only bring ONE key into it, which meant it was very hard to keep a good session going, and since it wasn’t matchmade, you could try for hours to play with someone and never get a good session running.

A lot of these events weren’t very random, which meant they could wear out their welcome fast. You hit a point where the game starts to get completely predictable. You don’t feel that you’re getting better, you feel that you’re on a treadmill. A good loot grind never makes you feel like you’re on a treadmill, even when you are.

A few things, like my favorite event, Skolas’ Revenge, never got upgraded past year 1, so you couldn’t take those guns into endgame, which was heartbreaking, as I loved it SO MUCH; that was my favorite encounter in Destiny. Seriously, all of Destiny. D1 or D2. Skolas. So intense. So fun. The checkpointing in it meant nobody really wanted to play it much, sadly. You needed to do like 2000 different encounters to get there with no checkpoints. (It was probably six) Even raids had checkpoints.

Seriously, if anyone ever wants to run Skolas with me, I’ll rock Xbox or PS4 to make it happen (Bungie not releasing D1 on PC is just… man, it disappoints me. I get why they didn’t do it… but, god, there’s so much content, man. So many good memories. And DPS check raids instead of puzzle raids. There’s so much content I LOVED playing, and I could get games going daily if it was on PC. On consoles it’s so hard).

Still, overall? Really good. I think Destiny is the game of the generation.

Destiny 2: Year One

Okay. So. What happened to D2?

Nothing had random rolls on it at all. No perks. Nothing. You get this Valakadyn and it will always, always, always drop with Under Pressure, a perk that benefits from holding down the trigger for a long time, which is the opposite of how automatic weapons should be.

In an article I wrote for USGamer, I said “it’s like getting Final Fantasy VII for Christmas every year.” Sure, it’s great the first time, but… eventually, you know what you’re getting. It’s not exciting anymore. Random rolls make guns and armor exciting.

If a gun has A Bad Perk on it, there’s, well… there’s nothing you can do. That gun will always need to be broken down into parts, because there is no reason at all for it to exist. It has a bad perk. It is doomed to suck. The element could change thanks to mods, if I remember right, but like… meh. Meeehhh. For some reason, they also put shotguns and sniper rifles in the same slot as rocket launchers and removed machine guns entirely. D2Y1 was not successful as a loot game.

Well, with the release of Forsaken one year later, Bungie made the best weapon system it had ever done. But the armor? Well… we’ll get to that.

Destiny 2: Year 2: Forsaken (Guns)

Guns were finally randomly rolled again! Mostly. Some year 1 guns could no longer drop, and some year 1 guns still dropped from various sources. It was… weird. A mixed bag. But the new guns?

Damn, son…

This gun does everything I want it to. It took me several tries to get it, but man, when I did, wow. Wow. Yeah. This is one of my favorite guns in Destiny.

My buddy Xavus has a completely different Warden’s Law with a set of perks that dramatically alter how he uses it. Where mine is accurized rounds, rampage, outlaw with a range masterwork, built for frequent headshots and combo kills, Xavus’ gun is all about getting as many bullets out of the mag as possible thanks to kill clip, drop mag, and a reload masterwork that all exist to buff his reload speed.

You’ll notice there’s one step back — fewer perks on guns. That kind of sucks, because it makes it a bit of a struggle to get a gun like Warden’s Law, which you can only get when it drops in a specific strike, and that encounter is only available every few weeks, and that’s not even predictable, and even if it was, it isn’t matchmade, so you have to get a crew together to do it, and for some reason, your gear’s locked, so you have to coordinate your gear and can’t adjust tactics on the fly.

Wow, okay, that sounds bad. For that one specific gun, it is. But… for most guns? It was awesome. Believe it or not, this got me playing more Destiny. While certain guns, like Warden’s Law, were hard to get, random rolls meant that yeah, I was more willing to run the strike multiple times. I could get multiple rolls, and each one might be good. Would I prefer if all guns in D2Y2 dropped with multiple perks on every column, like in D1? Yes. Absolutely.

But… Bungie also added two more things to make guns interesting.

See those squares at the bottom of that post? There’s the infusion symbol, which is how we can make that gun stronger. There’s the masterwork, a cool perk that modifies a single gun stat — in this case, range, and you can put materials in it to level the gun up to level 10. This lets you get orbs of light on multikills, which help recharge your super (and, with certain perks, heal you), and it also adds a kill tracker. Then there’s the third slot, which is for mods; mods, as mentioned above, basically let you push your gun a bit further in a direction that suits your playstyle. It’s player-controlled customization.

Fun fact, this is really close to the system I was designing for a game, but I actually think Bungie did a better job, lol.

Then there’s shaders, so you can customize the guns.

Basically, if you said “Doc, without changing much, what would you do to improve D2’s gun system?” I’d be like “oh, make sure every gun can drop like this, so the concept of ‘y1 gun’ doesn’t exist, and put two or three perks on every column, instead of just one. Other than that, this is a really, really good place to be in. Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

Destiny 2: And Then There’s Armor

So in Year 1, I don’t remember how armor worked. I genuinely don’t. Weird that I have like this encyclopedic knowledge of D1 and a lot of D2 but I don’t remember armor at all. What I can tell you is… I didn’t like the new style — it was clear Bungie was trying to break up silhouettes, but they were also going for a Kinda High Fantasy Look and it just… never felt RIGHT to me. I preferred the sci-tech look of D1.

Anyways, in Y2, the armor worked like this: there were three stats (mobility, recovery, and resilience; personally, I would like resilience to have another name, because it would be easier to remember all 3 words in a group if they started with different letters, but this is a personal nitpick). Mobility… doesn’t make you sprint faster, which is weird. It doesn’t feel that good or noticeable. Durability is kinda useful. Recovery is actually really useful because it actually makes you recover faster in battle. That’s the one that’s gonna help you survive.

What fucking sucked was that as a hunter, bungie put an intrinsic +1 mobility to a bunch of armor, so even when I was trying to get high recovery, I was still ending up with more mobility than I wanted because fuck me, my class needs a useless stat or some shit.

That probably sounds bitter, haha.

Okay, let me put it another way:

I’d pick up a piece of armor that said, inherently, it was a recovery armor piece, and for whatever fucking reason, it would have mobility. For a while, I actually thought it was a bug and the game was just making EVERYTHING I got mobility armor no matter what, but no, it was just poor in-game communication.

Also the gear had randomly rolled stats, and you could put mods on it, and the stats and mods were actually pretty good and made the game feel better. There was some customization. And I liked it, even though I hated the whole “inherently this armor always drops with +2 mobility or whatever.” That was irritating. But other than that? Pretty good.

Not ideal, but whatever! I did eventually find The Perfect Look for me.

And, like an idiot, I never took a picture, so here’s the second best version. My favorite guns at the time, and armor that was almost perfect. I would later replace this cloak with an Iron Banner cloak that I adored (which you CANNOT GET ANYMORE! WHY???). I wish the shader took a little differently on those pants, so the pink fits in more with the overall blue-pink look, and I would be using the tangled shore, because I don’t like the fur down on the leg on this one, but the abs take the shader really bad.

I also tended to wear this helmet:

It is my favorite helmet in Destiny 2.

So, I’m a fucking idiot who forgot to take a picture of My Favorite Look in Destiny 2, and I am kicking myself for it, because I had to break all my armor down as it was useless in D1 and I thought I’d get my armor back, like… pretty quickly.

Still… I was happy with how I looked, the armor was good… Destiny 2 was in the best place the game had ever been… but the loot chase was still kind of butts.

The reason it was butts?

Destiny 2: Why The Loot System Was Butts.

So, Luke Smith said something a bit odd in one of those articles he wrote, or a video interview, or some shit, look, it’s 7:39 AM, I’ve been up all night, I’m still getting over some dental surgery shit, so I’m not really in the mood for research, haha. I just… he said something that stuck with me, okay?

He said something like “we were giving out legendaries too frequently in Destiny 2 Year 1.”

Now.

That’s interesting, because he’s right, but he went on to say something like “so we don’t give legendaries out as generously now. Also we’re gonna cut down on the sources of powerful gear so we can extend the grind for power.”

I could write a whole thing on “the grind for power is the least compelling attribute of Destiny 2, and I actually had a lot of fun AFTER I hit the cap and was ONLY seeking sources of gear, and every friend I had who quit the game did so because they kept getting powerful gear in the same slot, and now that several of my friends are grinding again, one friend just got, I think, eight different energy weapons in the same slot and no other powerful gear, so he’s really frustrated with his experience.”

But instead I’m gonna talk about generosity. I’m gonna talk about the True Endgame, which is after the power grind. Once you are just trying to get fun gear, which is the real reason you log on every night.

One thing I realized I didn’t explain was legendary/exotic/rare/whatever, so let me do that really quick: basically, now, when you play the game, the only gear that will drop for you is going to be blue rarity, purple rarity, or exotics. Blues aren’t randomly rolled and they have fewer perks, so there is literally 0 reason to use them unless you are leveling up and don’t have any legendaries. Legendaries, which are purple, are your baseline guns; they are the ones I’ve been talking about, with two perks. Bungie could make this game nothing but legendaries and exotics and it would be more fun to play. No one wants to use anything else.

It sucked to get so many legendaries in D2Y1 because they couldn’t roll with random stats. You were always going to get a Nameless Midnight with Explosive Rounds. You were always going to get a Uriel’s Gift with Tap the Trigger. So getting a shitload of those guns didn’t make you happy.

By giving out so many legendaries, it was easy for players to get everything they needed to get and quit the game.

I feel like Luke looked at it as “getting any legendary too frequently feels unrewarding,” where the reality is, nobody likes getting blues at all. The most requested feature among my friends is “a way to auto shard any blues that won’t raise my current light level.”

In Destiny 2 Year 2, just like Destiny 1, the most fun activities in the the game were generous with legendary gear, like the extremely well-received Menagerie, which had a bug that let you get around 5–6 legendaries per run. When runs were really hard, this was super fun. It was also fun when the community challenge meant you could get a guaranteed four legendaries per run after Bungie nerfed it. It’s not… super fun to spend 20 minutes to get one legendary, not when you are trying to get a very specific legendary with a very specific set of perks. I think I did around, like, idk, 20 runs to get the machine gun I wanted? And that was 20 when it was dropping 4. That’s 80 attempts right now. 80 attempts in 20 minute intervals is just over ~26 hours~ of gameplay. There are entire games you could beat in 26 hours. Do you want to spend 26 hours trying to get one gun from the only place it drops?

Is that fun?

Destiny 2: What A Loot Game Needs

Giving out legendaries a lot when the game didn’t have random rolls was bad.

Giving out legendaries a little when the game does have random rolls is bad.

What you want to do is have random rolls and then give out a lot of them, so the player always feels productive. That’s actually the core of it!

Every loot game needs to have its players log in and feel like they got something out of it every single night, regardless of what they choose to do. It’s really disheartening that I’ve been running three (the maximum allowed) Morgeth encounters every week for so long that my buddy Xavus has got seven curated Nation of Beast (a specific roll that’s pre-masterworked) rolls and I have only got a non-curated roll with garbage perks (UPDATE: I did this today and got two chestpieces and a bad sniper). You can’t run more than 3 encounters. Just one. It’s really exciting when I’m running Menagerie and jumping back and forth between multiple chests getting several different guns as I hunt down That Perfect Roll. It’s not as thrilling to run strikes for an hour and get, like, two pieces of legendary gear with bad rolls.

While you can target some pieces of gear, there are lockouts (like, Dreaming City has the Blind Well activity, but why play it when you only get one shot at legendary gear a week? it’s crazy hard to get a good Dreaming City shotgun as a result! There is no incentive to play the Blind Well when its design consists of “go to 4 points on the map, stand there and shoot enemies, then shoot some bosses, and the bosses are always the same and the points follow like 6 different patterns and that’s it” — it’s groundhog day with no reward, and that’s not what a loot game needs) too.

Destiny 2 needs to make players feel productive, and right now it doesn’t accomplish that, because it isn’t generous with loot.

Adding to this is the fact that there’s no way to target large amounts of loot. You can target loot by doing raids, by doing strikes/gambit/crucible to give tokens to their vendors, and by doing a couple things that came with the Y2 season pass like the forges, but if you want, say, a good Duke Mk. 44, which I sought for the better part of a year? Well… good luck with that. There’s no way to get one. You just kinda have to hope one shows up one day. That’s all you can do.

So even if you’re playing nonstop, you can still take forever to get something good or interesting, because you can only target some gear. Destiny 2 would feel a lot more fun if I knew that all Duke Mk. 44’s drop on Earth, so I ping some friends and say “hey, I need to go get a Duke Mk. 44, wanna come with” and one of them is all “oh shit I need Scathelocke, that drops on Earth too, I’ll join you!” and then we just go do Earth Activities until I get one, you know? As it stands, I just… kinda… gotta hope it drops.

Then there’s gear you can target but, for some reason, isn’t randomly rolled, like the three Ikelos weapons, which are only available on specific weeks (and you need a guide to find it because there’s no way to know what guns are available), any of the Mercury weapons, or… well…

Pretty much any vendor gear.

For some reason, you can’t preview what the Cryptarch or the Gunsmith sell, but you can preview the items from of planetary vendors. Here’s the Martian vendor’s loot pool:

None of the weapons you buy here are going to be Year 2 weapons, as far as I know. That means if the perks are bad, the gun is always going to be bad. There are literally dozens of guns in Destiny that just plain are not useful at all.

By extension, it means that all of those activities aren’t really meaningful either. Remember, a loot game’s goal is to get you replaying content. For modes that do have randomized loot, there’s an incentive to play repeatedly, but… so many of those have gear lockouts.

I had a friend run some math, because I’m a writer, not Archimedes.

Let’s say that I wanted the Horror’s Least pulse rifle from The Corrupted Nightfall. Seven months ago, someone posted on reddit pointing out that it had been ~ten weeks~ since the last time The Corrupted had showed up — it’s up for an entire week, but there are only 3 nightfalls per week and 17 total strikes that can come up.

Let’s say I wanted a Horror’s Least to roll with with a reload masterwork, extended barrel, light mag, full auto, and kill clip. According to my buddy, based on the light.gg stats (we’re assuming it can drop with a masterwork other than stability here), if we were guaranteed a different drop every run, it could take a maximum of 378 runs to get the gun we want.

The Corrupted takes an average of around 15 minutes to complete. If we were guaranteed a different drop every. single. run… it would take 5,670 minutes. That’s 94.5 hours.

How many games have you played that are 94.5 hours long?

Now.

What if I told you that you aren’t guaranteed a different drop every run. In fact, I think in all the runs I’ve done of the Corrupted, which is maybe 30 by now, I’ve received… 3? So one in ten. They were all really bad rolls that I didn’t enjoy using.

So… uh, if we say it’s 94.5 * 10, that’s… y’know, 945 hours. To get one gun. Assuming every single roll is different.

For the record, I have 1019.5 hours in Destiny 1.

I’m in the top 29% of all players.

Beginning to see the problem here? Right now, players are logging into the game and leaving sessions without feeling like they’ve progressed.

What makes this a good thing for players to experience? Who wants to spend a thousand hours of their life grinding a single gun that isn’t even that good? Why have guns in the game if you can’t target them?

Destiny 2: But Then There’s Armor

So, uh… Bungie introduced a new armor system.

The new armor system has 6 possible stats it can roll. I prefer discipline (for grenade recharge) and recovery (for reducing the time it takes to get my health back so I can survive better). The stats themselves don’t offer a major benefit — at max durability, for instance, your SHIELD is increased by 13%, which means that if a minotaur flips his shit and shoots two shots at you, you’re still gonna fuckin die. You’d need like a 50% increase to be able to tank two shots instead of one during a legendary nightmare hunt.

In their videos and previews it was all “play how you want, double down on the RPG build aspect of it” (and there are some good warlock/titan builds, but I have yet to see a good hunter build except for one that requires y2 gear you can’t get anymore), but the actual stat differences don’t… seem to change a whole lot? On grenades, you can get down to 36 seconds, which is nice, but it takes a lot to get. Other things, like mobility and durability, don’t seem to have any meaningful changes.

Bungie has this philosopy of the Golden Triangle, introduced, I think, in Halo. You have the gun, the melee, and the grenade, and these things help you control the space. 1 minute cooldowns on grenades mean you lose one part of the triangle for enemy management.

— i guess it’s a biangle now —

It hurts the game, imo. And you can’t really build a character that feels like it fits in that classic golden triangle unless that’s all you do.

There is also a new mod system, where mods take energy to plug into your armor. There are some strengths to this (better customization) and weaknesses (boss damage reduction is like 10% and combined with a max 13% resist still doesn’t REALLY double your durability from 1 to 2 shots) afaik.

The shitty thing, though?

ELEMENTS.

So, like I said before, Destiny has 3 elements, right? Armor now drops with an elemental affinity, which determines what mods you can put on it.

So now you have ~six~ stats to manage ~and~ the affinity. Mods are now tied to these elements as well, so if you want, say, a bow, you need a pair of arc gauntlets.

I saw something on reddit the other day with someone saying that Oathkeepers, which are “the bow gloves” for hunters, can’t drop with arc energy, meaning the bow gloves can’t use bow mods. If that’s correct, wow, way to dunk on hunters again, bungie. It is taking everything in my power to refrain from writing about how hunters get fucked on all the time.

So.

To recap: you get armor and have to hope it looks the way you want it to. you get random base stats. even if you DO get a good armor piece (60+ base stats), and even if it rolls the stats you like (primarily dis/rec for me), the perks won’t do much, and you have to hope the element on that armor supports the mods that let you use the guns you want. I love shotguns, but if I don’t get good arc gauntlets, I can never ever use Enhanced Shotgun loader.

Remember my Horror’s Least example above? Same problem here. You have to play forever to get good gloves with good stats and the right affinity for the guns you want to use. If everything goes your way, congratulations, you have won at life!

There’s just… one problem.

I want the Tangled Shore gauntlets, and I’m lucky I can target them, but I would have to grind the menagerie dozens of times in the hopes I’d get it. I think I’ve yet to see one with a stat roll above 52. I have to hope that 2 out of 6 items are correct and the stars align. I’m not going to do the fucking math but it’s definitely easier to win two powerball lotteries in a row.

But what if I wanted, say, the Escalation Protocol gauntlets? Sucks to be me, because I only get ONE shot a week at them. If I’m lucky enough to get the gauntlets to drop (and the treasure chest might drop boots or a helmet or a cape), again, I still have to hope the stats are good and the elements are in my favor.

52 chances a year in the hopes that 6 stats will roll right with great base energy and the right element.

And that’s just ONE piece of gear. I did around 60 Iron Banner matches this week. I think I managed one good set. PVP causes me physical pain, but I had to play SO MUCH to get a chance at something good. I still don’t have a good Hero’s Burden SMG to show for it.

See the problem?

Here’s Bungie’s take on things.

I get it, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem, which is that the hunt for gear sucks.

Destiny 2: Okay the article’s almost done, i swear

So. To break it down.

  1. A loot game needs to be a hobby, something you feel like you can jump into at any time and enjoy.
  2. To do this, players need to feel reasonably rewarded for their investment.
  3. Right now, Bungie is giving players unrewarding gear (ANY blues, y1 guns) —
  4. — or really bad gear (hip fire grip on a sniper) —
  5. — while placing arbitrary restrictions on how you play (EP lockouts, non-powerful raid drops, limiting strike exclusive weapons to nightfall) —
  6. — and only letting you target SOME gear, but not all gear —
  7. — and having too many variables on armor to ever make it possible to target.

Players need to be able to log in, pick something they want to do, play it for the evening, and log off, feeling satisfied. This makes them feel happy about the game and encourages them to want to come back for more. Do you know what my Iron Banner experience did to me? It made me want to never play Iron Banner again. Ever. It wasn’t fun and I got almost nothing for it.

Generally, I prefer to say “here is what the overall experience needs to feel like” and “here’s why the current experience doesn’t accomplish that.” I hope I’ve done so.

Right now, Destiny does so much right. I think the whole “living world/you had to be there” philosophy gives way to FOMO and that’s really bad (I did over 60 iron banner matches and I haven’t seen a Pluperfect drop; I think it’s bugged. I suspect this season will end without me even having a CHANCE at a good roll; I had this problem with Avalanche a few seasons ago, and it was the only solar machine gun in the game at the time, and all I ever do is look at my shit roll and feel bad I never got a good one and can’t try to get one anymore), but I think there’s a lot the game does really well (no game is more fun to simply turn on and run around in, gun feel, lots of raids to run, getting multiple items from menagerie, etc), but… honestly?

The players aren’t getting a good investment right now in a lot of ways.

Bungie needs to make the game feel more rewarding.

Instead, too often, it just feels like a waste.

Maybe one day I’ll actually get an Optative with Outlaw/Demolitionist or Kill Clip/Rampage. Maybe I’ll actually get a Pluperfect. Maybe I’ll finally get my old look back (don’t know how without last season’s iron banner cloak and crucible pants in armor 2.0 form).

Maybe one day Bungie will FINALLY give me Bones of Eao again so I can run around yelling QUAD JUMP!!!! at the top of my lungs.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to target anything and build that perfect Hunter.

Right now?

I can’t.

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.

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